It’s getting to be a habit, and behold the wondrous monotony of it all: The Giants are world champions again.
As the calendar strikes an even-numbered year, they rise up to conquer. Each time it is different. Each time it is the same. This time it was Giants 3, Royals 2 in game seven of the World Series, a Wednesday night for the pleasure of Bay Area baseball fans and the approval of historians.
Only once before in National League history has a team won the World Series three times in a five-year span, and in truth, the St. Louis Cardinals’ achievement (1942, ’44 and ’46) doesn’t measure up to San Francisco’s. That was a wartime run, particularly in ’44, when the military call to arms caused serious depletion of major-league talent.
Let that debate gain inspection some other time. The greatness of the modern-day Giants is now established beyond doubt, and although it hasn’t been officially confirmed, count on a Halloween-day parade in downtown San Francisco on Friday.
They say it might rain that day. Pretty good chance, in fact. Then let it be so. Symbolically, nothing rains on the Giants’ parade.
The common thread to the Giants’ magnificence is a plane ticket, a hotel room, a hostile ballpark setting many miles from home. In 2010, the Giants won San Francisco’s first World Series championship against the Rangers in balmy Arlington, Texas. Two years ago it happened on a drizzly evening in Detroit. Wednesday brought the very essence of a Midwestern autumn, brisk and cloudless, and the Giants delivered a soul-crushing message to some 40,000 blue-clad fans at Kauffman Stadium.
More than anyone, it was Madison Bumgarner who authored this masterpiece. Polishing off one of the greatest sustained World Series performances of all time, Bumgarner pitched two-hit shutout ball over the last five innings,earning the Series’ Most Valuable Player award, and he did so on two days’ rest.
There is an immediacy to any game seven, a sense of desperation setting it apart from all else. So much of a baseball season is about preparation and care, keeping things in order for the long haul. Then comes game seven, and the startling transition from “It’s a long season, kid” to “We need you right now.” Customary roles get tossed aside, and suddenly everyone is available.
Bumgarner made himself available this night, and the Giants will be forever grateful.
He had pitched 47 2/3 innings this postseason, winning Game 1 and tossing a two-hit shutout at the Royals in Sunday’s Game 5, and that easily could have sufficed. To pitch again, on such short rest, would be an unfair test to the human arm.
Then again, in the words of reliever Jeremy Affeldt, “Sometimes we sit around wondering if Madison is human.”
So there he was in the moments leading up to the first pitch, walking to the visitors’ bullpen with the rest of the Giants’ relievers. Early on, unable to sit still, he leaned against the transparent fence for a spell, watching the action unfold.
“One good thing for us,” the Royals’ Jarrod Dyson had said after Game 5, “we don’t have to worry about Bumgarner no more.”
Ah, but they did. And they’ll still be worried about him come New Year’s.
In the wake of a disastrous outing by starter Tim Hudson, who gave up two runs and couldn’t get through the second inning, manager Bruce Bochy’s pitching plan was quickly in tatters. Affeldt pitched a heroic 21/3 innings (he isn’t usually seen until the seventh or eighth), and then came Bumgarner, with his slow, deliberate gait, to start the fifth inning with a 3-2 lead.
The Giants had carved out that advantage with typically widespread contributions. There were consecutive sacrifice flies by Michael Morse and Brandon Crawford in the second inning. Morse singled home a run in the third. Pablo Sandoval scored twice, Hunter Pence banged out a pair of hits, and everything good about the Giants was showing up at exactly the right time.
Still, it was the specter of Bumgarner’s appearance that dominated this game — before he actually appeared and especially when he did.
“We know Bumgarner is a great starting pitcher,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said before the game. “We’ll see what kind of a reliever he is.”
Could it get much better? Bumgarner gave up a hit to the first batter he faced, Omar Infante, but the Royals couldn’t score, and that was their critical misfire: It’s always wise to get Bumgarner early, if he’s going to be vulnerable at all, because he’s virtually unhittable in rhythm.
The good people of Kansas City had waited 29 years for this World Series, and they tried desperately to ignite a rally with loud, impassioned pleas. But the rhythm had kicked in; Bumgarner mowed down 13 straight batters until finally, with two out in the ninth, Alex Gordon doubled to left-center field and took third when Gregor Blanco let the ball skip past him for an error.
What a scene: With the Giants one strike away from the title, Bumgarner had a 2-2 count on Salvador Perez, the heart-and-soul Royals catcher who nearly had to leave the game in the second inning after taking a Hudson fastball off his left leg. Perez lofted a lazy pop foul, Sandoval settled under it, and a party was launched: The Giants, a healthy segment of their office staff and about a hundred orange-clad fans, chanting and waving their orange-and-black flags.
It hardly seems real, but the Giants know the feeling — and they’ll carry it right through to spring training. It’s a feeling only world champions understand.